I was sitting in church last week and feeling overwhelmed. As I thought through my list for the week, the coming month, and the goals for the year, I realized something: they are all beyond me. They all, each and every one, require significant miracles.
To name a few:
We’re still learning language to understand this church service and communicate more with all our friends. We’re still studying daily. We are learning daily. And there is still so much to learn.
We are managing a business to sell products to an expat community, while communication is limited, my business experience is zilch, and were working with illegals and running the risks involved therein. We are also trying to really know these people and do life with them, so we are also dealing with debts and savings, domestic situations, child-rearing, and deep-seated poverty week in and week out. Oh, and I have to drive a car for three to four hours every Friday, while communicating in multiple languages and trying to maintain relationships with both the Burmese workers with me and the expat homes we are visiting. I then go back to home to sort the finances of it all, which is just the most complicated way to split about $30. This entire practice every Friday is beyond me each and every week, and a complete miracle when it is done successfully.
We’re sharing the gospel with this community every Thursday. We are often shouting above the noise and trying to ignore one child hanging on our legs, another playing magnets despite warnings, and yet another eating Mama noodles impossibly loud. We want them to hear this and know this, but we can’t make them. We can get them here. We can speak truth. We can help truth be translated. And while even this is a monstrous task each week, it is stil left in the hands of He who makes things grow.
Stephen is building a drum set to begin a recording project to hopefully create worship music translated into multiple languages. Building anything in this country is a product of many hours, multiple failures, and intense heat. Meanwhile, he is motivated by this huge dream that is far beyond him, but has to start somewhere.
And then we have our side projects, which we know are so good and yet take precious time. We are working with a local organization that provides green energy all along the border to provide a video this month and recreate two websites. Stephen is creating a database for an amazing woman in town that serves hundreds of migrants around our area, places just like our neighborhood. He’s helping her and two local staff move from notebooks containing ten years of chaotic notes to a syncing system on iPads, which is no small task. I am doing research on the side for a local political organization to help teach leaders headed into political dialogues. It’s all bigger than us.
Recent events in Mae Sot have caused to us to begin to ask how long we can be here doing this without getting into trouble ourselves. We have had to question each trip out and about and each police check. This makes us ask what is next: do we stay here? Do we attempt to move into Burma with some of our friends here? What would that entail–financially, with visas, work, and such? Do we go back to America? What would we do there? Do we want children? Where would we want to have them? And perhaps at the root of it all, how long do we want to do this? As this moves from a season in Mae Sot, to well, a longer season–what does this mean for the still longer season of our lives? Yet again, so many questions and so many prayers, and so many things beyond us.
So I was overwhelmed, to say the least.
We chatted over Skype with one of our strategic mentors this week. He was discussing our goals and vision with us, saying this is right where we want to be: where we need God to carry it out.
There is a deep-seated pessimism in me–that perhaps might be growing since we arrived in this lovely town– and my thought was this: but what if he doesn’t?
If it all depends on Him showing up and he chooses not to–which as the sovereign God he is, I believe he can–what then? Then it’s just us, floating in this random little border town, failing at this entire list and then some.
Erwin McManus wrote a book and often spoke on “The Barbaric Way” of faith. He shared the idea that we had made Christianity safe and weren’t willing to risk for Christ. We have one of these talks on our iPhones, and I listen to it often enough and have mentioned it here many a time. One of the passages he considers is Matthew 11, where John writes to Jesus from prison and asks, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus replies to the disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
McManus says and emphasizes it this way, “[John asks,] If Jesus was the One, why wasn’t he helping him out? Where was Jesus for him? Why wasn’t Jesus coming to rescue him? …If he was following God and doing God’s will and if he was the forerunner to the Messiah, where was the Messiah for him? And Jesus sends back a report to his disciples…Jesus sends back this amazing resume, right? The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, & the good news is preached to the poor. Now that’s pretty spectacular, but there’s nothing there that John didn’t know. And then Jesus adds this odd statement, ‘Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.’ How many people do you know that fall away from God because God’s doing too much? … What Jesus was saying to John was, ‘This is what I’m doing. I have the power, the authority, the capacity, and I’m doing it. I’m making the blind see, the lame walk, lepers cleansed. I’m raising the dead, but John, you are going die.’”
I’ve wondered this often about our lives here. For one, I have wondered if we are going to die here. I have also wondered if we will just never be the same–if I will forever struggle with depression or nightmares or fears because of what I’ve seen and experienced. What if Jesus were to say of our time in this community, The lame walk, the blind see, the dead are raised, but Kelli, for you this is going to be a hard road. It is going to hurt you.
I started wondering this years ago and praying through this. I’m selfish enough that it wasn’t a quick agreement. But God is also good enough and has given us a deep love for this community, so that I came to accept this possibility. What if I am ruined for the sake of these friends knowing Christ?
But if I think any further, this suddenly becomes not the sacrificial way, but the ideal.
God is sovereign. He is great and He is good in a way I cannot comprehend. So what if he is also saying, The lame walk, the blind see, the dead are raised–and I am good; but your friends, they are going to die.
Because this could also be true. There are stories of His goodness all around the world, and what if they aren’t in my neighborhood? Does that change the character of God?
I know I need to say no to that. But this is where I am faltering. It is obvious that there are miracles God chooses to perform and miracles he chooses not to: from one healed of cancer to another whose life is ended to soon; from the person who prays for a parking spot and receives it, while another prays for a friends soul and is left wanting; from unspeakably cruel murders by ISIS to me asking for my neighborhood to know the love of Jesus.
There are times he chooses to answer and there are times he doesn’t. What if my life is where he doesn’t? And really, what is actually far scarier for me–what if my neighbors’ lives are where he chooses not to answer these prayers?
In so many ways, he has already come for me. He has shown me his love in more ways than I can comprehend. He has given me miracles and spoken truth to me. And while he may be silent now or for the rest of my life even, he has shown himself.
What if this is all he is going to show to my neighbors? What if this is their chance? What if our prayers for them are the ones that go unanswered?
The first thing I realize is that this doesn’t really change anything for me. I love and follow God because of who He is, not because I understand him.
It doesn’t change my life here, because I am called to be here by the God I’ve chosen to serve. But it does make it harder to reconcile the pain and suffering. It makes me pray and beg for Him to be present here and to show up in all these miracles: may language come, so they can know the truth. May business succeed, so they can see the Father’s love and care for their every need. May they hear the truth, so they can be changed by it. May drum sets work and songs be translated, so they may worship His name. May we serve others in Mae Sot, so they may all see the body of Christ working together in unity. And may God lead us and direct us every step of the way, for His kingdom and not our plans.
I find myself praying big prayers, weeping for Him to hear them, and hoping, hoping, hoping.
Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor & needy. Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you–you are my God. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me. There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord, my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.